A court review of a $33 million class action settlement for former inmates of the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) and their families was held in London, Ont. on Wednesday.
During his address to the court, Michael Peerless described the EMDC as overcrowded, unsanitary, and fraught with violence. Outside the court, he described conditions as, “Not just unpleasant but negligent and breached the rights of people who are incarcerated there.”
Peerless is a class action lawyer with London firm McKenzie Lake.
The settlement, which has been 12 years in the making, is for two separate class action law suits covering a period from January 2010 to November 2021.
There are 1,200 people eligible to make a claim in one of three tiers.
Settlement amounts in each tier are for $1,500, $12,500 and $35,000. The claim amounts will be based on the level of injury suffered as a result of conditions at jail.
Peerless says while some people feel those who commit crimes should expect difficult conditions, EMDC has gone beyond that, “People end up in jail often because of challenges like substances abuse and things like that, or very difficult childhoods and don’t have a lot of people speaking on their behalf.”
McKenzie Lake class action lawyer Michael Peerless made the case in civil court for the endorsement of a $33M dollar class action settlement for EMDC inmates and their families on Sept. 13, 2023. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London)
The court heard almost two dozen presentations from people who were incarcerated at EMDC, and from some who had family members die inside the facility.
Many of those who gave presentations about life inside the EMDC during the court proceeding said they hope the settlement also results in real reform at the London facility, and other Ontario corrections facilities.
“Conditions were very terrible,” former inmate Adam Butch told CTV News outside the courthouse.
Butch served six months in the jail in 2017. He said at one point, other inmates beat him savagely and, he contended, corrections officers never moved to protect him, “I had a broken jaw in two places and bled out. Almost died in there. Yeah, it was pretty bad.”
Adam Butch says he was assaulted inside EMDC during a six-month incarceration in 2017. He supported the class action settlement on Sept. 13, 2023. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London)
“I first got involved in 2009 when there was a homicide at EMDC,” said McKenzie Laker lawyer Kevin Egan. “Everyone put it down as a slip and fall in the shower. It kind of opened my eyes to what needs to be addressed there.”
Egan became a champion for inmates and their families reporting abuses or negligence, “Grown men breaking down in tears and telling me about what their experiences had been. So today has been very gratifying to at least get some closure for those individuals.”
The justice hearing the case will review the settlement reached between the McKenzie Lake team and lawyers representing the Ontario government, including the Solicitor General’s office, but the justice made it clear the endorsement is almost assured.
Peerless believes the endorsement could come within the next two weeks, “He understands that it’s very important to get money into the hands of people who have been effected.”
McKenzie Lake lawyer Kevin Egan, seen on Sept. 13, 2023, became a champion for inmates and their families after first hearing of a homicide in the jail in 2009. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London)